Philip Yeo Liat Kok
|Occupation||Chairman, SPRING Singapore|
Chairman, Economic Development Innovations Singapore (EDIS)
Noel Philip Yeo Liat Kok (Chinese: 杨烈国; born 1946), DUNU (First Class), is the Chairman of Economic Development Innovations Singapore, Advanced MedTech Holdings and Accuron Technologies. From April 2007 to March 2018, Yeo was Chairman of Standards Productivity and Innovation for Growth (SPRING Singapore), a government development agency with the mission to grow small and medium enterprises and startups.
Yeo was Special Adviser for Economic Development in the Prime Minister's Office (April 2007 – August 2011), Senior Adviser for Science and Technology, Ministry of Trade and Industry (April 2007 – July 2008), Executive Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (February 2001 – March 2007), Executive Chairman of the Economic Development Board (January 1986 -January 2001), Executive Co-Chairman of the Economic Development Board (Feb 2001 to March 2006), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence for Defence Research, Logistics and Industry (September 1979 to December 1985).
Yeo was a student of St. Joseph's Institution in Singapore. He graduated in 1970 in Applied Science (Industrial Engineering) from the University of Toronto under a Colombo Plan scholarship. He obtained a Master of Science (Systems Engineering) from the University of Singapore in 1974. In 1976, he obtained a Master in Business Administration from Harvard University under a Fulbright scholarship.
Yeo has been conferred honorary PhDs from University of Toronto, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, National University of Singapore, Monash University and Imperial College London for his work in Economic Development in Singapore and Asia.
Philip Yeo served in the Singapore Administrative Service from June 1970 to 31 March 1999. He served in various appointments in the Ministry of Defence, including Permanent Secretary for logistics, technology research & development and defence industries. He became acquainted with then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee and Defence Minister Howe Yoon Chong during his time in service. He left MINDEF to assume the appointment of chairman, Economic Development Board in January 1986.
During his EDB chairmanship, Yeo redirected EDB's focus from the traditional fields to new areas of business. These included: Internationally exportable services; developing high-tech industries like biomedical science, semiconductors, aerospace and speciality chemicals; nurturing local small and medium-sized enterprises and encouraging Singapore companies to make direct investments abroad. Yeo pioneered Singapore's participation in overseas infrastructure development projects such as those in the Bintan Industrial Estate and the Wuxi-Singapore Industrial Park in China.
During this time, Philip Yeo also served as the first Chairman of the National Computer Board (now Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore) from 1980 to 1987. He played a leading role in formulating and championing Singapore's first national computerisation plan to evolve the nation into the information age.
Yeo was the Chairman of A*STAR from 2000 to 2007. As Chairman of A*STAR he was credited with developing Singapore to become a leading centre for biomedical research and development in Asia within fields such as the biological mechanisms of infection, functional genomics, and stem cell research. To that end he recruited, amongst many others, accomplished researchers like Edison Liu, Nancy Jenkins, Neal Copeland, and David P. Lane to work on biomedical research in Singapore's biomedical hub Biopolis.
Yeo stepped down as Chairman of A*STAR and become chairman of the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (Spring Singapore) on 1 April 2007. He was also appointed senior adviser on science and technology to the Minister for Trade and Industry.
In his role as Adviser for Economic Development in the Prime Minister's Office from April 2007 to August 2011, Yeo assisted in expanding Singapore's economic space through forging new economic links and providing strategic inputs in Singapore government partnerships with foreign governments who value Singapore's development expertise, including countries in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America as well as those in Russia.
From January 2009 to January 2010, Yeo was a member of World Health Organization Expert Working Group on R&D Financing.
Mr. Yeo was a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts in Public Administration (CEPA), established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 2010 to 2013 for the promotion and development of public administration and governance among Member States, in connection with the United Nations Development Agenda. He was a member of World Health Organization Expert Working Group on R&D Financing from January 2009 to January 2010. He is also Chairman of Economic Development Innovations Singapore Pte Ltd (EDIS) which is focused on developing and managing integrated cities and providing industrial development advice to overseas governments and government-related entities.
In the private sector Yeo has chaired numerous company boards, including: Singapore Technologies Holdings, Sembawang Corporation, and CapitaLand. Yeo was board member (from 1980) and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Singapore Technologies Holdings from 1987 to 1993. He also served as Chairman of Sembawang Corporation (1994–1998) and the successor Sembcorp Industries (1998–1999), Pidemco Land (1999–2000) and CapitaLand (2000–2003) formed from Pidemco after a merger in 2000. Yeo is currently the Chairman of a-iTrust (Ascendas India Trust – Asia's first listed India property trust) and Accuron Technologies. In addition, he is a non-executive director on the board of directors of City Developments Limited, and was appointed as one of the first non-Japanese outside directors of Hitachi alongside George Buckley, the former chief executive officer of 3M. In 2013, Yeo joined the board of directors of the Baiterek National Managing Holding of Kazakhstan, which is a trust management company which manages key Kazakh financial institutions like the Development Bank of Kazakhstan. In December 2013, Yeo joined the Board of Kerry Logistics in Hong Kong. In April 2020, Yeo joined the Board of Sunway Berhad.
Public service and awards
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For his public service, Yeo was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1974, the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1982 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1991. In 1987, he was awarded the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship, USA for the period March to May 1987.
In 1994, the Indonesian Government conferred on Yeo its highest civilian honour, the Bintang Jasa Utama (the First Class Order of Service Award) in recognition of his role in fostering good bilateral ties between Indonesia and Singapore. In 1996, Yeo was conferred the Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) for his contribution and leadership in enhancing ties between Singapore and France.
In June 1997, Yeo was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering by his alma mater, the University of Toronto in recognition of an illustrious alumnus.
In February 1998, Mr. Yeo was honoured by the Belgium Government with the Commander of the Belgium National Order of the Crown for his personal merits in promoting the co-operation between Belgian and Singapore industries.
In November 1998, the international Society of Design and Process Science honoured Yeo with the K T Li Award for contributing significantly to economic and societal development. He was recognised for his contribution to Singapore's economic development and for his pioneering role in the development of Singapore's IT industry.
Mr Yeo was awarded the CEO Lifetime Achievement Award, Asia Pacific IPA Awards in 2003.
In May 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of medicine by the Board of Research at Karolinska Institutet. The award was given for Yeo's efforts in building medical research and education in Singapore, in collaboration with leading universities throughout the world, including Karolinska Institutet. He was also cited for helping to catalyse collaborative agreements between Karolinska Institutet and A* STAR, and between Karolinska Institutet and the National University of Singapore. These agreements led to significant exchanges of researchers and students between Singapore and Sweden.
In the same month, Yeo was awarded the Nikkei Asia Prize for Science and Technology "in honor of his strong leadership in drafting and implementing Singapore's science and technology strategy, particularly in biomedical sciences."
On 9 August 2006, he was awarded the Order of Nila Utama (First Class), one of Singapore's most prestigious National Day Awards.
In September 2006, he was the first Singaporean to receive Harvard Business School's Alumni Achievement Award. Harvard credits him with moving Singapore's economy into manufacturing sectors like televisions, disk drives, petrochemicals, and most recently the biomedical sciences.
In November 2007, Yeo was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Science by Imperial College of UK for his focus on building up Science and Technology in Singapore.
In December 2007, the Japanese government conferred the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold And Silver Star, which represents the second highest of eight classes associated with the award. Yeo is among eight Singaporeans, including Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who have received this conferment since 1967.
In April 2008, Yeo was awarded the Distinguished Service (Star) award by the National Trade Unions Congress in Singapore. The award is the Singapore Union's highest honour for a non-unionist. Yeo was conferred the award for his contributions to the transformation of Singapore and direct efforts of job creation.
In November 2008, Yeo was awarded the University of Toronto Engineering Alumni Medal 2008.
In March 2009, Yeo was awarded BioSpectrum's first Asia Pacific Life Time Achievement Award for the role he played in Singapore's rise as a hub for the life sciences industry and for setting up the Biopolis and Fusionopolis technology complexes.
In May 2013, Yeo was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Semiconductor Industry Association SEMI. The award was presented to Yeo for his pioneering and significant contributions to Singapore's economic development, especially in the promotion and growth of the semiconductor industry. During his tenure as Chairman of the EDB, Yeo was instrumental in leading Singapore's strategic growth and investment into the semiconductor industry, which today boasts an annual output of over $49 billion, hires over 42,000 employees and has 14 wafer fabrication plants.
In July 2017, Yeo was awarded Honorary Fellowship by King's College London, for the role that Yeo played in supporting Singaporeans to study at top universities around the world, including at King’s.
One of the hallmarks of Philip Yeo has been his passion in developing people. In the course of his career the Government of Singapore has sent thousands of Singaporeans to top universities around the world on government funded scholarships. In return for government funding to complete their studies in university, these scholars make a commitment to return and serve the Singapore government for a period of six years.
When Yeo joined the EDB in 1986, EDB had a few MNCs who had donated annual scholarships: Sundstrand-EDB Scholarship(1982); Minebea (1985). Some of the key scholarship programs that Yeo set up at EDB include: Seiko Epson (1987–1988), Yokogawa Electric (1988), Shimano (1993), Daicel Chemicals (1994) and Siemens (1995); Mobil (now ExxonMobil) (1997), Singapore Inc (SIS) (1997) and Promising Local Enterprise Scholarship (1996).
In 1989, Sir Paul Girolami, then Chairman of Glaxo, asked Yeo what Glaxo could do to demonstrate its appreciation to Singapore. Yeo immediately suggested a scholarship program. Shortly after that meeting, Glaxo sent S$50 million in two cash cheques to the EDB resulting in the creation of the Glaxo-EDB scholarship program. Since its launch in 1990, the Glaxo-EDB scholarship has trained over 300 BS/MSc scholars.
When Yeo arrived at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in 2001, he found that fewer than 20% of PhD holders in A*STAR's institutes were Singaporean, and few among them were young scientists. Yeo immediately set up his boldest scholarship yet by setting up the A*STAR Graduate Academy to implement the plan to train up 1,000 PhD scholars that would eventually return to Singapore and undertake research in fields like information technology, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry and medicine. One of the hallmarks of Yeo's personal style is the amount of personal attention he gives to his scholars. He takes great pains to remember personal details about their background and also closely tracks their academic performance. He regularly meets with them to buy them meals whenever he is near their overseas universities on his regular business trips abroad.
In July 2013, a National University of Singapore scholarship was named after Yeo. The scholarship will send about 10 top student recipients outside Singapore each year for stints at top universities or startup technology companies. Scholarship recipients will get to meet Yeo and also tap his vast network of contacts worldwide. It is hoped that the students will learn some of the following values from Yeo: "never say die, always dare to be different, always want to make a difference."
- See also : Censorship in Singapore
In 1998, as Chairman of EDB, he decided to name publicly the holders of government scholarships who broke their bonds to shame them. This created a controversy generating public debates on whether those who received scholarship have a moral obligation to serve, or whether the scholarship is merely a contractual agreement which could be broken in return for the stated penalties. The debate culminated when MP Chng Hee Kok (庄熙国) questioned Yeo's decision. Yeo responded by calling for Chng to resign his seat in Parliament because of his view. This led to even more unhappiness at the audacity of a civil servant talking down to an elected Member of Parliament. Then Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong had to intervene in what was seen as a face-saving rebuke for both – that Philip Yeo was wrong to tell Chng Hee Kok to resign, but Chng had also been wrong in arguing that it was acceptable for scholars to break their bonds because they were merely legal contracts.
In May 2005, the controversy of A*STAR bond-breakers was revived when The New Paper published an article about him writing in his book that men in Singapore were wimps, whiny, and immature even though they have served the National Service (NS). The reason Yeo gave was that all bond-breakers since early 90s were Singapore men. The anger was further fuelled when a female A*STAR scholar, Chng Zhenzhi, backed his statements and openly declared that Singapore men were fine until "(once) they enter NS, they complain a lot." Philip Yeo served in the part-time NS Special Constabulary (SC) from 1976/78 with the rank of Inspector.
In the same month, Chen Jiahao, a Singaporean PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was threatened with legal action for accusing A*Star and Philip Yeo of "bribing universities for taking in PhD students" under the moniker AcidFlask on his blog caustic.soda. Chen went on to accuse A*Star of "giving out gobs of honey to universities who will sign back-door agreements for taking in scholars without going through the formal application procedure." Philip Yeo and A*Star responded with threat of legal action, stating that the statements made in AcidFlask's blog would have been understood to mean that A*Star had acted corruptly in its dealings with universities. The statements also cast serious aspersions on A*Star's scholars to the effect that they were not admitted to their universities on merit but only because their universities were bribed by A*Star to do so. A*Star demanded a public apology from Chen and that the offending and defamatory postings in AcidFlask's 3 March 2005 blog be deleted. Chen chose to shut down his entire blog-site. All posts were removed voluntarily, and replaced with an unreserved apology to "A*STAR, its chairman Mr. Philip Yeo, and its executive officers for the distress and embarrassment" caused. The incidents upset several members of the local blogging community for his statements. In February 2007, Yeo, in the comments of another blog, revealed the exact posts that were considered defamatory.
In 2006, Philip Yeo began to face criticism for his Biotech strategy. As billions in taxpayers' money had been spent to develop the Biomedical Industry in Singapore. Philip Yeo countered his critics by pointing out that Biomedical manufacturing output had quadrupled from S$6 billion in 2000 to S$23 billion in the 5 years that the country had been investing in the sector. In that short period, the Biomedical industry grew to account for over 5% of Singapore's GDP and 10,600 high value added jobs. In addition, Yeo also pointed out that during the 5 years of investment, more than 25 companies started research centres in Singapore, including three corporate R&D laboratories run by Eli Lilly and Company, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.
In late 2006, Dr. Lee Wei Ling, head of National Neuroscience Institute, publicly questioned the policy of Philip Yeo and A*Star, asserting that they were wrong by putting public money on competing with western countries on cutting-edge research. She said that Singapore should instead focus on niche areas in Biotech research.
Yeo's work in developing the biomedical industry has received praises by some analysts including Nature correspondent David Cyranoski who wrote that "Singapore's impressive advances in biomedicine are driven by the energetic personality of Philip Yeo."
"This issue has been deliberated over a period of several months in Cabinet and decided by PM Goh and cabinet. The policy has been continued by PM Lee and his cabinet. We have made significant investments in time and resources. We have to get the most out of what we have put in."
Yeo is married to Jane and has 2 children, Eugene (Gene) and Elaine. His son, Gene Yeo, received the Lee Kuan Yew Graduate Fellowship that funded his PhD in computational neuroscience at MIT and is now a tenured professor at University of California San Diego. Elaine is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University, Chicago.
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